Rio de Janeiro Olympic torch relay kicks off 3-month journey

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — The Brazilian torch relay for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics kicked off Tuesday with double gold-medal winning volleyball player Fabiana Claudino running the first leg after the torch was ignited by embattled President Dilma Rousseff.

“Brazil is ready to host the most successful Olympics in history,” Rousseff said in a speech to start the three-month relay around the country.

Rousseff is expected to be suspended from office next week as the country’s senate hears an impeachment case against her, which means Vice President Michel Temer is likely to be president when the games open at the Maracana stadium on Aug. 5.

The Olympic flame arrived in a lantern on a flight from Switzerland and was taken to the Planalto presidential palace.

The relay across Brazil will involve 329 cities and 12,000 torchbearers. Rio organizers hope it will build enthusiasm for the games, which has lagged as Brazil battles bribery and corruption scandals, its deepest recession in decades and the Zika virus outbreak.

Rousseff spoke for 20 minutes, promising Rio is ready with completed venues and top security.

“Brazil is completely ready to offer protection to the athletes, the technical staffs, heads of delegations, tourists, and journalists — to all our visitors,” she said.

Rousseff said the country was working with international security agencies “who have experience with terrorism.”

“The Olympic torch will be received with joy in all cities in our immense Brazil,” she said. “The flame will illuminate a hospitable and responsible country.”

She also touched on the political and economic turmoil rocking South America’s largest country.

“We know political problems exist in our country today,” she said. “We know there is political instability. Brazil will be capable in a difficult period, a very difficult, critical period in the history of our democracy of dealing with the problems. … It’s important to fight, and we know how to fight.”

Security experts are expecting protests during the relay, and on Tuesday a few hundred protesters gathered on a relay route controlled with a heavy police presence.

One sign in English read: “OlyImpeachment is here.”

Colonel Jose Vicente da Silva, a former head of public security, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he expects demonstrations along the route.

“Wherever the torch goes, there will be a camera on it,” Silva said. “There will be banners for or against President Rousseff. There is a chance of big protests during the torch relay.”

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